All my nights are dark and stormy. Dark by distance or by rotational effect, turning from the light. Stormy from roiling internal demons come to hunt and haunt me after the distractions of the day have faded. It’s when I do my best work.
“Captain, you have a message waiting.”
“Who’s it from?”
“Captain Fwala, the male you had…”
“Yeah, yeah. Erase that from your memory.”
“All right, pipe it to me.” This new replacement AI is too formal for my taste. It insists on calling me Captain even though I’m the only one aboard. I need to dig into its settings when I have more time.
“Sahza! So good to see you if only in a hologram. I fondly remember our last port call together—”
“Get to the point, Fwala. I’m on a schedule here.” I’m not, but there’s no need for him to know my business.
“I’m calling in that little favor you owe me.”
I let a thoughtful, fake pause pass before I respond. “Okay, what do you want?”
“I find myself in a teeny, tiny bit of a quandary.”
“Go on.” His topknot is twitching, a sure tell he is lying.
“I need to make a vector change to Vanklu, just business, of course. I have a passenger on board who wouldn’t be well received there. You know how hyper-xenophobic they are. It needs to go to a colonized world where oxygen breathers can survive … a G12 planet. I’m hoping you can take it somewhere suitable. I’d be remiss in my duties if one of my passengers was … Well, you know the Vanklu.”
“I don’t know why you trade with them.” Something smells rotten here. “Are you carrying some proscribed elements for them? You know the guild will bust your ass big time for that. Does this … thing need any special environment? What does it eat? Will it stink up my ship?”
“It can easily tolerate your ship’s environment and eat what the processors can produce. I’m sending you a video of it along with its dietary preferences.”
“What’s that thing called? I’ve never seen one of those before. It looks harmless enough, though.”
“It calls itself a Canadian, but it’s a human, a young female of its race. They’re quite new in this sector—still have that new species smell.”
“Never heard of them. Okay, I’ll bring it on board, but after this, we’re square. Back to zero energy ground state, clean start.”
“Thank you. May you forever change for the good.”
“Yeah, yeah. Enough with the platitudes. I said yes. How soon do you want to dock up? I need time to shift into a form that pasty looking thing can identify with. Is it always that hairless?”
“I can rendezvous with you in three days. That should give you plenty of time. I’m sending over the translator files so you’ll be able to understand it. Be prepared for a chatty visitor.”
Before I can respond, Fwala signed off. I hate shifting on short notice. Given more time, it would be a less painful transition. My present form usually scares the crap out of the two-eyed bipedal types, or at least makes them uneasy as they hide their young.
When the inner airlock door slid open, there it stood, luggage in each hand—a fragile pink thing, yellow hair pulled tightly back from its face, its mouth such a bright red I think it might be blood. I wonder if Fwala has been skimping on its rations. “Welcome aboard … ah … I didn’t get your name. Do you have one?”
“It’s Amy, and thank you SO much! I didn’t know what to do when he told me about, you know, about those icky … the Vankle. I remember once when my friend Wendy and I got separated and—”
“Okay, okay. You can finish your story later after you’re out of the airlock. Step aside, let me close the hatch. It’s the Vanklu, by the way. Your quarters are the first hatch on the left … That way. No, the other way.” I wonder if the gravity is too low for this hopper. She seemed to bounce with every step, and that swaying length of gathered hair on the back of her head is annoying to watch as she saunters away. I think I’ll cut it off.
Passing her hatch, I take a quick look. She is standing in the middle of her bunk space, one hand on hip, the other pressed against a corner of her thin mouth as if she is making redecorating choices. I hit the close actuator. Let her figure out how to open the damn thing. I have work to do.
“So, you see, I’m traveling to join my daddy. He’s working for our Ambassador on, oh, I get the names all wrong sometimes. I think it’s the planet Barrel or Bartle or Bramble … something like that. Anyway, I had to travel on a moment’s notice, leaving behind most of my wardrobe. The local authorities insisted I be on my way. I have the cutest long frock. Jenny says she doesn’t think it is, but I think she’s just jealous of me being friends with Suzy. You’d like Suzy. She lives on Veeder or Ventor now and has SO many boyfriends. I don’t know how she keeps them straight. It’s probably because her family’s so rich, but Becky says—”
“STOP. Don’t you need to breathe?”
“Why yes, I breathe all the time. Momma says proper breathing is a sign of good breeding, that and posture, and of course the cultured walk …” Her voice trails off as I make my way out of the galley. Three months of this could very well drive me insane.
I’ve found a solution—other than placing her in stasis or strapping her to the hull of my ship, I mean. She has quite an interest in certain visual entertainment media, staying silent, mesmerized in front of the screen for hours. I need to look up more about her species. If they’re all like this, it won’t be long before someone comes along to cancel their ticket. Speaking of which, hers will bring me a nice bonus at the other end.
Well. That lasted about two weeks. Now she wants to know everything. Not just about me, my ship, my species … everything. It’s no use directing her to the data banks. She can’t read gen-text, and I’m not about to show her how to activate the audio on that thing. I’ve banned her from the bridge. Regulations, I told her. It’s the only place I can sleep in peace now. She continually holds conversations with herself, or perhaps she thinks I’m paying attention. I’m going to start slipping some sleepy-time in her tea.
We’ve been diverted. Her father has moved on to another planet. In his place, I would too. Another month now … That’s not a good thing. I need to molt soon, and I can’t do that in my present form.
Amy’s talking points have no start, no endpoints, and if there’s a discernable middle, I can’t find one. She goes on and on about how strange every other race is, throwing out pejorative evaluations in solar bursts. She’s not too enamored by many of her own kind either, especially those she calls The French. I’m considering taking out a contract on her momma if she mentions her one more time.
It just goes to show you, like an ever-present stench, your senses eventually become dulled to the stimulus of irritating beings. I’m beginning to have a less intense dislike for this thing, ugly though she may be. In self-defense, I’ve lowered her caloric intake and boosted the carbohydrate levels in her food. It seems to calm her.
It was a race against time, and time won. I had to molt. There was no choice. If we hadn’t been diverted, I would have been rid of her well before my change came. In our time together, I had become a bit fond of Amy and the background noises she produced. She would have lived longer if I hadn’t been so hungry. It’s that insatiable hunger after molting you know. The kind that makes you want to burn planets. It’s a craving, a desperate need for air.
Since I hadn’t registered her as a passenger in the transit data banks, she still showed as being on Fwala’s vessel. He’s going to be pissed when he finds out. I’ll owe him another favor. Anyway, I need to get back on track with my current contract. There’s a small moon that needs destroying. I’m in such a foul mood, I may not give those squatters a second warning to vacate.